Outside the Box, by Dan Allosso (2007), is a book that I can happily recommend to reluctant teen readers, kids who feel alienated from their peers, who resent mindless consumerism and conformity, who are grappling with the injustices that the bureaucracy perpetuates on kids who are being abused, overmedicated, or judged mentally ill, and finally, kids that like computer games.
Now, I am not any of these things, mainly because I am no longer a kid—I do, however, resent mindless consumerism and conformity, and being a bureaucrat myself, I sometimes chafe against the shackles my job involves. But in short, I am not the target audience as such. So I approached this book doubtfully.
My doubts intensified when a demonic presence appeared in a computer game on page 9. A demonic presence that was not part of the game as marketed, but that appeares specifically to communicate with Reid, the teen-aged protagonist...I wondered if I was in the wrong genre. And at first I was not drawn to Reid--he's a bored, spoiled rich kid with distant parents, and not immediately engaging. However, the plot thickens, more people become involved, and the pace picks up...
And today, there I was, reading it in the car on the way to work (my husband was driving), so that I could finish it (and not just so as to reach my 2.5 YA books a day quota. I was just really interested). And I’m very glad Dan Allosso is working on a sequel, because there are still Unsolved Mysteries (and as yet unrealized Romance—this is not a book about teens falling in love; this is only in the whisperiest bit of sub plot. Which makes a change). And as well as wanting more answers, I quite simply look forward to spending more time with the people in the book.
I’m not going to run through the plot—this book has a mystery at its heart (the demon in the game), and I don’t want to spoil anyone else’s fun. But I will say—there are well-defined characters (including a strong female lead) and an intriguing story line that kept me page turning (it requires slightly more suspension of disbelief than I like, but it’s within the realm of actual possibility, if there is such a thing). Dan Allosso has written a book that has points he wants to make, and at times these points are stated rather baldly, but heck, they’re good points—the importance of committing to friends, the importance of asking questions instead of sidestepping issues, and of course, the value of thinking outside the box, so the didactic aspect did not stop me in my reading tracks.
Outside the Box has been nominated for the YA Cybils Award, and copies duly arrived in all the mailboxes of us nominators, which we appreciate. This book was self-published, and as such, it strikes me as just the sort of thing the Cybils were designed to promote—the really good reads that might otherwise not get the attention they merit. Head over here for more information about the book and its author.